Apparently not, but there’s a thought. The soothing and mesmerising genetics of Mali’s music does lend itself to the ancient subliminal art of convincing children to go to sleep. But with one search through Google and just when it was looking like an original, fantastic, idea it emerged that The Rough Guides series had already done it, and marvellously so. The Rough Guide to African Lullabies “features a whole host of sweet tempered songs from different corners of Africa. The music gently rocks listeners away in to blissful deep dreams” – whether they are therefore genuine, traditional lullabies is unclear. Doubt it. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam Mekeba and Ethiopian pianist, composer and nun Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou line up alongside a impressive squad of West Africans and others from across the continent. Angelique Kidjo and Ba Cissoko join Ali Farka Touré, Toumani Diabaté and Bassekou Kouyaté in just another example of how this region of the planet has a special thing going on when it comes to music.
Tinariwen are not really notable by their absence in this compilation album; their explosive guitars and vocals hardly the right mood-setter for afternoon nap time. But who knows what sends a baby of the desert to sleep? After hours of whirling winds and the hive-like drone of the sand dunes themselves perhaps something with a bit more rhythm does just the trick.
Devastating is the news contained in a recent UN study which identifies 250,000 Malian children who will not grow up with either their mother, father, or both; orphaned as a result of the conflict and poverty gripping their country. Aid workers struggling to meet demand at camps near the Mauritania border say they simply do not have enough resources to feed, cloth and shelter these most vulnerable of displaced people. Without an urgent change in fortunes, many of these thousands of children will have nothing but the cold, empty hum of the desert sand to comfort them into an unsettled sleep.
Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.
To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.
The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.
The Twitter hashtag #musicinexile got a little bit more use this week as rising stars Songhoy Blues released an album by the same name – their first – on Monday. Their story of the conflict and of fleeing persecution for being musicians is frightening common. When theirs began they were completely unknown- at least to the world of music. There are plenty of griots and other musicians who’s stories have not become known to the world. Their precious, historic music lost forever. When Tinariwen were forced to leave their homes and country, presumably they had to pack up their grammy awards with them. Even with their fame, or perhaps as a result of it, they could not escape the terror. Guitarist Abdallah Ag Lamida was captured by Ansar Dine and was held for several months, before being released in January 2013.
In their own exile, Tinariwen are weary but undiminished in their musical spirit. They produced the album Emmaar in 2014 and was recorded in California’s Joshua Tree National Park. We, along with others, have already clocked the similarity in the Malian sahel and the geography of Joshua Tree. This is something not lost on the band either and by coincidence or not its a situation that oozes narrative. When listening to this week’s Song of the Week take a bit of time to view the excellently composed music video which shows the band travelling through the desert – familiar yet thousands of miles from home.
Tinariwen are the providers of this week’s Song of the Week. A gloriously simple song. The vocals and guitar cobble together a gentle rhythm, with both seeming intentionally lazy at times. The lyrics come across like a fatigued conversation between two friends, hours after you both ought to have gone to bed. They whisper like the thoughts that follow an extended break in conversation. The softly spoken words treading carefully through their surroundings, the guitar equally weary of disturbing the peace.
Inspired by the Saharan storm that rolled in to dust Great Britain last week, we stick with the desert blues. Tinariwen’s newest studio album provides the music this week and the Hub are happy to see that Glastonbury festival have confirmed Tinariwen as an act at this year’s festival.
It was suggested in an earlier post that much of North American blues can owe its origins to the musicians of North Africa. But what of another great American genre: Country and Western? Now, if it is possible to a trace this back to Mali it would be quite a scoop as it is generally assumed that country music’s origins are based in Irish folk, particularly owing to the central role played by the fiddle. Other instruments central to the genre originate in other migrant populations – the Spanish guitar for example. However one instrument, the banjo, is particularly distinctive and unique to Country music. According to this source, “the banjo, as we can begin to recognize it, was made by African slaves based on instruments that were indigenous to their parts of Africa”. Indeed, variants of the banjo have existed for centuries through-out Southern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and across the Middle- and Far-East; yet their origins appear to all come back to Africa.
So, some of the instruments most strongly associated with Country and Western originated from North Africa but that’s not quite enough to claim that the genre itself originated there. Listening closely to the many great examples of Malian blues allows us to ponder the link but that is all. But then in steps fiddle-playing New Yorker Fats Kaplin of Dead Reckoning Records who appears with Tinariwen on this week’s Track of the Week. Kaplin’s fiddle work merges into the familiar Tinariwen set-up with the greatest of ease, in fact it is barely noticeable as a cross-genre collaboration till about half-way through. It should be obvious. Interstingly, the cover picture for the new album ‘Emmaar’ – on reflection – is a typically Western scene: in the foreground is a ranch with the band with horses flashing past whilst behind them a cactus-studded frontier stretches far off into the distance, eventually merging into dry unforgiving hills. In fact, it is difficult to deduce whether the photo is of the Wild West or of the Sahel.